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Exclusive - Theissen on KERS, Valencia and BMW Sauber’s dip in form 06 Aug 2008

Dr Mario Theissen (GER) BMW Sauber F1 Team Principal.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, German Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Hockenheim, Germany, Saturday, 19 July 2008 Nick Heidfeld (GER) BMW Sauber F1.08.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 11, Hungarian Grand Prix, Race, Budapest, Hungary, Sunday, 3 August 2008 Nick Heidfeld (GER) BMW Sauber F1.08.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, French Grand Prix, Practice Day, Magny-Cours, France, Friday, 20 June 2008 Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber F1.08.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 9, British Grand Prix, Race, Silverstone, England, Sunday, 6 July 2008 Dr Mario Theissen (GER) BMW Sauber F1 Team Principal.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, French Grand Prix, Preparations, Magny-Cours, France, Thursday, 19 June 2008

The Hungarian Grand Prix was a race to forget for BMW Sauber. For a team that had surprised the paddock by leading the constructors’ championship earlier in the season, their Budapest performance came as a bitter blow. BMW Motorsport director Mario Theissen may not yet understand the reasons for the poor showing, but he is determined the team will improve over the summer break. Theissen is also being kept busy with preparations for the arrival of KERS in '09 - and for a new track at the forthcoming European Grand Prix. Here he explains more…

Q: Mario, in comparison to your recent podium results, Hungary was not a great race for BMW Sauber. What happened?
Mario Theissen:
Well, this race has to be seen differently. Our performance on Friday was reasonable, the performance on Saturday in qualifying was good to very good, but our performance in the race was completely different. It looked like we weren’t there, that the race went on without us. At no point did Robert (Kubica) or Nick (Heidfeld) come close to the lap times they did in qualifying. And I have to admit that I don’t know the reason yet. What we certainly will look into is the equation of car, set-up, tyres and track conditions. If you look at Robert’s qualifying time he should have been able to fight at the front but in reality, in certain phases of the race, he was the slowest car on the track. What happened in the race was completely unexpected.

Q: Robert said that even on the first lap it was bad, but during the race it went from bad to worse. How did it look to you from the pit wall?
MT:
It was the same for all of us.

Q: Could it be that the Hungaroring simply isn’t BMW Sauber’s track?
MT:
I would not agree with that. In the last two years we have been on the podium, so there must be another explanation behind this disappointing performance. We were not just slow, we were also inconsistent. Like at Ferrari, we also witnessed that one car was doing much better than the other. There was something out there that we did not understand.

Q: BMW Sauber has now been relegated to third place in the constructors’ championship. Do you think you can regain your second position?
MT:
Based on the performance and points yield of the Budapest weekend, you’d say certainly not. But naturally we will not twiddle our thumbs, as we still have developments in the pipeline - aerodynamic as well as mechanical - and we will definitely not stop the development of the F1.08 because of one unsatisfying result.

Q: Not so long ago one of your drivers seemed to be in trouble - now it seems it is the car…
MT:
Well, Nick’s qualifying was certainly not what he had expected and it was the reason why he could not score points in the race. But what we saw in the race definitely had nothing to do with the drivers.

Q: Robert was on a two-stop strategy, while Nick was one-stopping. In reality, neither made much difference…
MT:
The two stops were absolutely the right strategy for Robert, whereas in Nick’s case we opted for a one stop, reasoning that if we saw a safety-car phase, he would have the chance to move closer to the front. Without a safety car, however, it was quite clear that he would not be able to score points.

Q: There were two team principal meetings last week: one in Maranello and one during the Budapest weekend, with KERS one of the main topics. Regarding its introduction next year, is it still the case that three teams are behind it 100 percent, two teams are 50-50 and five teams are against it?
MT:
That is not entirely wrong.

Q: You are fully supportive of KERS and its introduction next year. Do you understand why some teams are hesitant?
MT:
Yes, I can understand them. There are reasons that have to be considered. On the one hand is the safety aspect and it goes without saying that we will not run KERS unless we are sure that those problems have been solved - and I am very confident that this will be the case. On the other hand there are financial aspects. And here I can understand the viewpoint of the independent teams, as for them KERS means an additional financial burden. But I would not consider this to be an argument for manufacturer teams because the development would continue even if we postponed KERS for one year. A technical development has never got cheaper by postponing it. And there is another side to the matter, which is immensely important even though it is not openly discussed, about the competitiveness of being with or without KERS. That issue must not be underestimated.

Q: Some of the independent teams fear that KERS could be a performance differentiator. Do you share these fears?
MT:
I am not sure about that because even some of the manufacturer teams rely on the same supplier, who also offers the product to the independent teams.

Q: Valencia is the next stop on the Formula One calendar. It is virgin soil for all the teams. How do you prepare for such a situation?
MT:
Before looking at a new race we will have to analyze what happened this weekend. But of course we will do anything possible to analyze a totally unfamiliar track. We have a track map and we can estimate how fast it is and which aero-settings it requires, but there will be more questions marks than usual before we drive there for the first time on the Friday. I expect much more action on the track during the Friday sessions than is usually the case.